When it comes to treating sleep apnea, CPAP is a paradox. On the one hand, it’s the best treatment available. It’s almost 100% successful when used properly. But on the other hand, it’s the worst treatment possible. Many people who are prescribed CPAP find that they can’t deal with the side effects, such as skin irritation, discomfort, feelings of being smothered, noise, throat irritation, and more. Because of these problems, less than half of people who are prescribed CPAP actually use it, which means that CPAP is practically, only about 50% effective, and the people it doesn’t treat still suffer all the risks of sleep apnea.
Poor Adherence and Referrals
For this study, researchers checked out how many patients were successfully treated with CPAP and how often doctors followed up with those who weren’t successfully treated. The study population was 1174 patients who had polysomnograms (sleep tests) at a particular sleep center over two months in 2010. Of these 1174, 616 met the inclusion criteria (for example, they had to have sleep apnea). Of the 616 patients, only 42%, 260 patients, actually had documented success with their CPAP treatment. That’s actually pretty good for CPAP, because it’s nearly 70% of those prescribed CPAP. However, there were 241 patients who weren’t given any treatment, and of those 241 patients, only 84–just over a third–were referred for alternative treatment.
In other words, only 344 patients–56%–either had successful treatment or a referral for alternative care, leaving 44% of patients without any treatment for their sleep apnea.
You Can’t Count on Your Doctor to Give You Options
When it comes to getting the right sleep apnea treatment, you can’t count on your doctor to give you the options. Many doctors won’t even begin a conversation about sleep apnea unless you bring it up, and, it turns out, many of them won’t follow-up with treatment options once you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
It’s up to you to do your research to understand what treatment options are available. CPAP treatment is highly effective, but it’s not the only effective treatment option for sleep apnea. Many people do as well or better with oral appliances than they do with CPAP.